§ 3.8 p.m.
§ Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Lord Beaumont of Whitley set down for this day shall be limited to three hours and that in the name of the Lord Redesdale set down for this day to two-and-a-half hours.—(Lord Wakeham.)
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend the Leader of the House to clear up two points in relation to this Motion.
First, in the unlikely event of my mathematics being right, it appears that five-and-a-half hours are being allotted to these two debates instead of the five hours which used to be the case. Is that a deliberate improvement? Is it a step which will lead to even longer periods being made available for debates? If that is the case, many of us may welcome it. I shall be interested to hear what my noble friend has to say on the subject.
Secondly, the Motion is being taken on the day on which the debates concerned are to take place. That means that those noble Lords who have put down their names to speak to either of the Motions did not know that they would be time limited when they put their names down. Is it not a rather strange procedure to put down time limits on the very day on which the debates are to take place? Is that an accident in this case or is it deliberate policy on the part of the usual channels?
§ Lord Wakeham
My Lords, some time ago the Procedure Committee recommended changes in the time limits so that there could be time limits of three hours and two-and-a-half hours as in this Motion. The Procedure Committee met recently. Its report, which recommends further changes, has not yet been approved by the House. It would probably be better to debate the up-to-date position in the very near future when the agreed report is published. It recommends,that on Wednesdays when there are two debates, both debates should always be time-limited; and that the sum of the two time limits should not exceed six hours".That is the latest report. It has not yet been approved by the House.
On the question of timing, the Motion is put down at the request of the party which initiates the debate as soon as it has agreed the appropriate time. Therefore the Motion cannot be tabled until we receive a request from the party which initiates the debates as to what it considers in the best convenience of the House the most appropriate way to deal with the issue. That is why the Motion is put forward today. I realise that in some ways it would be more convenient if the Motion were tabled at an earlier date. On the other hand, if it were tabled at an earlier date, the speakers in the debate might not be known, or the party might make a wrong decision as to the best way to timetable the debate. Of course I shall listen carefully to anything that my noble friend has to say in view of his great experience in these matters.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, perhaps I may deal with that point. Does it follow from what my noble friend said that if the party organising the debate does not ask for a time limit to be imposed, the Government will not impose it?
§ Lord Wakeham
My Lords, as I say, your Lordships have not yet had a chance to discuss the report of the Procedure Committee. The recommendation of the Procedure Committee is that where there are two debates they should automatically be timetabled. I am not absolutely certain of the answer when there is just one debate. As I understand the position, the debate does not have to be timetabled.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, perhaps I may plead guilty to causing the delay in the Motion coming before your Lordships' House. I apologise for that. We were faced with the difficulty that by Thursday last hardly anyone had put his name down to speak on either of the Motions. By last night it was clear that many people wished to speak. We had originally expected to have two two-and-a-half hour debates. However, that would have reduced the speaking time, frankly, to ludicrous proportions. I know that noble Lords from all parts of the House have become worried about the brevity of some of the speeches that they are forced to make.
I did not feel it right to take total advantage of the six hour limit which the Procedure Committee had suggested until your Lordships' House had had a chance to debate that recommendation. Nevertheless, in the sense that we would not delay the Unstarred Question for more than half an hour beyond the time at which it might have been expected to begin, I considered that we could compromise and take three hours for the first debate, and two-and-a-half hours for the second. In practice, it might have been better if we had been able to have three hours on each debate. I hope noble Lords will have some sympathy for us. I hope, too, that in future noble Lords will please put their names down at an earlier stage, whether the debates are in the names of my noble friends or initiated from any other part of the House. It is difficult to programme such events. Indeed one name was added only this morning. Fortunately, one other name was taken off so that addition did not affect the situation.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I hesitate to intervene but I am a little concerned that reference has been made to a report by the Procedure Committee which is not yet before your Lordships' House, far less approved by it. I hope that that practice will not be repeated. Can the noble Lord the Leader of the House advise the Chamber on whether the arrangements for today's debates are in order? I am sure that the House would like clarification that the arrangements for today's debates are in keeping with the procedures of this House which have already been agreed.
§ Lord Wakeham
My Lords, the debate and the Motion which I have moved today are entirely in accordance with the current procedure of the House. I agree with the noble Lord that it is not wise to have discussion on a report which has not been seen by many noble Lords, although I understand that the new report 989 is currently available in the Printed Paper Office. That was why I indicated that it was probably better not to have a long discussion. The new report is available. I believed that the House would wish to discuss it when noble Lords had had a chance to read the report. I do not believe that there is any difference between us.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.